Creating a More Equal and Inclusive Workplace

Creating a More Equal and Inclusive Workplace

Creating a more equal and inclusive workplace should be one of the top goals of every organisation. According to the government of Canada, among a number of other clear benefits, an equal playing field has the potential to ignite a more prosperous economy while upholding fairness and justice in our society. This results in healthier and happier communities everywhere. As employers work toward implementing new policies that affect real change, many are struggling to navigate their way through the complexities of special programs and competing rights under the Human Rights Code.

According to the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC), their purpose is to “create a climate of understanding and mutual respect for the dignity and worth of each person, so that each person feels a part of the community and feels able to contribute to the community. It gives everyone the right to equal treatment in employment, housing, goods, services and facilities, contracts, and membership in unions, trade or occupational associations or self-governing professions based on Code grounds.” One of the most effective ways employers can create immediate impact in their workplace is by utilizing the OHRC’s “Special Programs.”

“The Code and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms both recognize the importance of dealing with historical disadvantage by protecting special programs to assist marginalized groups. The Supreme Court of Canada has also said special programs should be protected. The Code allows for programs designed to help people who experience hardship, economic disadvantage, inequality or discrimination, and protects these from attack by people who do not experience the same disadvantage.”

Special Programs, under section 14 of the OHRC enables employers to:

  • Relieve hardship or economic disadvantage
  • Help disadvantaged people achieve, or try to achieve, equal opportunity or
  • Help eliminate discrimination

Special Programs, under section 14 of the OHRC:

  • Protects affirmative action programs from challenge by people who do not experience disadvantage
  • Promotes substantive equality to address disadvantage and discrimination in all it’s forms
  • For more information on OHRC special programs, click here

The Duty to Accommodate – Managing Competing Rights in the Workplace

According to Ryan Berger at Lawson Lundell, when it comes to competing rights in the workplace, every workplace faces unique challenges. It’s important to take a logical and common sense approach resolving these issues by focusing on creating ‘win-win’ situations.

  • Are the issues being brought to the employers attention affecting actual rights of employees? It’s important to understand the issues at hand before coming to any conclusions about what the appropriate solution might be.
  • Employers should understand that all rights have equal status in the eyes of the law, and each issue should be addressed with this in mind.
  • It’s important to understand the context of the issue or concern. Employers need to know where the issue falls in the scope of the right potentially being infringed upon.
  • In certain cases, where a right is being infringed upon, there may be an understanding that minimal interference may be warranted. This would only be observed once a thorough analysis of the circumstances of the issue has been completed, and the balance of rights taken into consideration.
  • Sometimes there is no solution that satisfies every party involved – in these cases it’s important to compromise, or offer a “next best solution”.
  • Decisions must be in line with workplace health and safety standards, and other laws, and regulations currently in force.

The Duty to Accommodate – What Employers can do for Due Diligence

In order to best prepare for an accommodation, employers should:

  • Understand that the duty to accommodate is informed by three principles: respect for dignity, individualization, and integration and full participation.
  • Understand that each and every accommodation case is unique and should be treated accordingly.
  • Work with an expert accommodation provider or Occupational Therapist on an ongoing basis to manage the accommodation process.
  • Accept requests for accommodation in good faith, and take an active role in exploring traditional, and alternative solutions.
  • Conduct open discussions about possible accommodation solutions to gain more insight.
  • Be aware that an accommodation may be necessary even in cases where the employee has not made a formal request.
  • Implement accommodations in a timely manner.
  • Be discreet, respectful, and maintain trust and confidentiality.

How Gowan Consulting Can Help

  • Provide support for policy and procedures development.
  • Train managers and employees on the duty to accommodate.
  • Provide objective Occupational Therapy assessments for accommodation requests.

If you would like to learn more about workplace accommodations, please check out our services for Providing Early Intervention and Return to Work planning.


Check out our powerful webinars on AccommodationMental HealthReturn to Work and several other topics if self-learning is more your thing!

Works cited:

Ontario Human Rights Code, Special Programs, A Self-Help Guide,

Ontario Human Rights Commission, Duty to Accommodate,

Ugh, My Co-Worker Stinks! Do you Have to Accommodate Competing Rights in the Workplace?, By Ryan Berger, Lawson Lundell,

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